Two Galway hospitals fined over waiting lists

Tue, Apr 3, 2012, 01:00

TWO GALWAY hospitals have been fined a total of €1.2 million by the Department of Health for failing to meet Government targets on reduced waiting times.

University College Hospital Galway and the city’s Merlin Park Hospital are the first to face fines under a policy put in place by the department’s special delivery unit in February.

The new policy penalises hospitals where patients have had to wait longer than the official maximum target of 12 months for procedures.

The department, however, has suspended the penalty on the Galway hospitals on condition that all waiting time targets are met by September 30th, and a programme of support measures is put in place.

The department also said the two hospitals would be excluded from any performance-related incentive payments which may be introduced by the Government later in the year.

The number of people waiting longer than 12 months for hospital procedures increased dramatically in the early part of the year but is now falling again, official figures released yesterday show.

The Department of Health said that at the end of last week there were 556 patients – adults and children – waiting longer than 12 months for either day-case or in-patient procedures in hospitals.

A spokesman for Minster for Health James Reilly said the special delivery unit would now carry out an assessment in these hospitals. He said it would look at whether there were any particular reasons for the targets being missed, such as urgent cases having to be given priority over those waiting in chronological order.

Under the system of penalties, hospitals with patients who were waiting longer than 12 months for procedures would face possible fines of €25,000 per month.

Alternatively, they would have to pay the full cost of having the patient treated in another centre, along with a financial penalty that would be 100 per cent of the costs involved.

The department’s figures showed there was a surge in the number of patients who had to wait longer than 12 months for procedures in the early months of the year, but this had begun to tail off in recent weeks.

At the end of December the number of patients waiting longer than 12 months stood at 372 – all of whom were awaiting treatment in Galway University Hospital or Merlin Park Hospital. At the end of January this number had grown to 907.

By the end of February the number waiting longer than 12 months had surged to 1,219.

However the department said that at the end of last week the numbers had fallen to 556 – down substantially on the figures recorded for the end of February but still significantly ahead of the position at the end of December.

It attributed the fall in the numbers waiting longer than 12 months in recent weeks on the introduction of a new regime of fines.

The chief operating officer of the department’s special delivery unit, Tony O’Brien, said: “The evidence appears to support the notion that since the penalty regime was implemented hospitals have refocused their attention on chronological management of waiting list patients, and that is the reason why we see the waiting list coming down.”

In a letter to the Galway hospitals, the special delivery unit said the suspension of the fines was in the context of them addressing chronological management and exhausting all avenues of providing treatment and entering into open dialogue to agree a programme of financial support.